All Strings Attached

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Chapter 8: Racing against the Bell

“What exactly are you up to?” Queen Juliana asked as she watched her son struggling to attach his sheathed sword to his belt while dressing himself improperly. He wore a crimson blouse with the buttons unaligned with the proper holes.

He looked at her with a panicked look. “I agreed to duel in the Gardenia kingdom! I forgot how early the first bell rings! If I miss the second bell, I’ll lose by forfeit!” He exclaimed with irritation in his tone. “I apologize for not informing you sooner!”

The Queen only looked at him, not even showing annoyance. “Represent our kingdom well…” was all she said before walking towards the corridor to the dining hall. A maid came from the dining hall, holding something close to her chest as she hurried past Vira.

As he struggled to fix his blouse, he kept thinking back to Sibylla. She was likely sitting there waiting for him, or maybe she had already given up on whatever faith she had in him.

“Lord Sin-Vira, the carriage is ready,” the driver informed him.

Hearing this, Sin-Vira bolted through the door and entered the carriage on his own. Slamming the door behind him.

“C’mon! I’m in a hurry!” He urged as the driver ushered his front seat. Sin-Vira’s head jerked a bit from how sudden the ride was.

The air was still bitter cold, with the morning light casting eerie shadows from the barren trees. Vira turned down eating to make up for the lost time. As a result, the continuous rocking made him feel nauseous and head spin.

He was never the type to be up at the crack of dawn. It was something he should’ve informed Sibylla on before agreeing to the duel.

“Keep it together, Vira. Mom’s expecting a lot from you.” His eyes looked to space beside him to rest for a bit, until something bright pink caught his eyes.

On the red velvet seat, there was a peach sitting on a white handkerchief. The corner had the initials ‘QL’ embroidered into it. Reading it made Vira smile slightly.

He gleefully enjoyed the pleasant surprise to pass the time. Savoring each bite until he had the pit rolling around in his mouth. Growing fruits in his region were impossible, which meant the fruit was imported at a high price.

This was the first time he participated in a duel outside of his kingdom. He fought against knights and dirty criminals, but challenging another prince was never something he expected.

When he agreed to the fight, all he could think about was shoving Beka off his high horse and show off his strength. But with how late he was running, he was anxious with the thought of hearing the Bell once again. The first was while he was just waking up.

The carriage abruptly stopped as the horses began whining loudly. It nearly caused Sin-Vira to choke on the seed. Annoyed, he opened the door and went out to see the situation.

A few medium-sized dogs were snarling and barking at the horses. Dogs of this breed were never in this region and doubted they’d wandered into a barren wasteland like this even in desperation. Upon closer inspection, they wore yellow bandanas with a hyacinth imprinted on them.

“That dirty little– I’m off!” Sin-Vira declared before bolting down the path. He disregarded his driver’s desperate cries for him to return to the carriage, as he ran as hard as he could.

Even as his lungs burned and every breath of air wasn’t enough, his legs wouldn’t stop for anything. He thought about the cocky look on Beka’s arrogant face and only pushed himself more.

With the Gardenia Kingdom slowly appearing into view, he glanced down at the downward hill he’d have to run down. The path was uneven, steep, and hazardous. Sin-Vira felt his feet grow heavy as his empty stomach made his mouth water. He was tired, craving, and under pressure. A nasty fall would only top off the possible worst day he was likely going to have.

“Just go for it, idiot!” He told himself before blindly running down the hill. He continuously stumbled as he tried to avoid slipping down the loose path. His stomach dropped at times when his feet weren’t touching the ground sooner than he’d like.

As he hurried towards the bottom of the death hill, he thought about why he was doing this.

Is it to prove his worth to his kingdom?

His mother?

Did he want to avoid embarrassing Sibylla?

Or maybe impress her?

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